[31 May 2010]
For a fourth album, the Futureheads’ latest album The Chaos makes a fine debut.
Naïveté, energy, and a decided willingness to play with conventional song structures identify The Chaos as the sort of fireball usually deployed by a band ready to make its mark in a terribly crowded scene. What’s strange about this is that the Futureheads have had four albums with which to make their mark, the first of which was near-universally lauded as a fine debut even if its pièce de résistance was a cover tune. After spending two albums trying to reach the heights of that debut, it seems that starting over was perhaps the most prudent decision.
Only a band who didn’t know any better would break into quick a cappella asides, often featuring three or four-part harmonies, in the middle of songs that sound like new wave moving at the speed of punk (not to mention a minute-long a cappella hidden track). Only a band who didn’t know any better would liberally employ chromatic scales in the middle of four-chord pop songs. Only a band who didn’t know any better would write the chorus of one of their catchiest songs (“Stop the Noise”) in 5/4 time.
The point here is that The Chaos is the sound of a band without any preconceived notion of how to make an album, and it’s a fascinating product from a band that’s been doing it for as long as this lot. They don’t seem to have any fear of being compared to bands that have come before, and they don’t seem to have any fear of repercussions from a fanbase that’s been following them since 2004. They’re playing like they have nothing to lose, which makes them a dangerous band indeed.
While it’s easy to appreciate the energy and pure fearlessness of the album, though, the execution often leaves much to be desired. While it’s true that repetition tends to be a hallmark of the brand of post-punk that the Futureheads deal in, a good half of these songs are practically interchangeable. “I Can Do That” and “This Is the Life” are quick chant-alongs that aspire to be immediately easy to sing along with, at the expense of anything approaching a catchy melody. “Heartbeat Song” is cute, but crossing Weezer with the Cars is a little too cute even for a pseudo-debut. Closer “Jupiter” is the worst of the bunch, a four-minute song that aspires for mountainous heights with its multi-part, suite-like structure, but ends up sounding like a disjointed, muddy mess.
Still, opening with a song as fiery and unrelenting as “The Chaos” can forgive a lot. Aping Devo seems to be in the Futureheads’ comfort zone as “The Connector” totally works even if its lyrics amount to schematics more than they do profound insights. “Sun Goes Down” proves just how intriguing the band can be when they slow down for a moment of contemplation, concocting a minor-key melody that stands out as the album’s most memorable.
There are many hits and many misses, but again, the pure energy of the whole thing can’t be denied. Like many debuts from artists we haven’t already heard, the appeal of The Chaos isn’t in the technical proficiency or the lightning-in-a-bottle perfection of an album-length statement. Rather, the appeal is in the potential. What we hear are new ideas, new directions for a band who had been searching for a sound, a band now throwing a whole bunch of sounds at a wall and seeing what sticks. It’s a satisfying, intense thing to listen to, even if you can’t help but hope they find a way to really make it shine the next time around.